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The “Great Change” in Wilberforce’s Time Management

Series: William Wilberforce and the Fight to End Slavery
Devotional: 2 of 5
Published: July 27, 2020

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15–16)

After William Wilberforce’s conversion to Christianity at the age of 26, his “Great Change” led to immediate and practical changes in two areas of his life: how he spent his money and time.

In the words of one of his biographers, “Before ‘the Great Change,’ Wilberforce had reckoned his money and time his own, to do with as he pleased….But suddenly he knew that this could no longer be the case. The Scriptures were plain and could not be gainsaid on this most basic point: all that was his—his wealth, his talents, his time—was not really his. It all belonged to God and had been given to him to use for God’s purposes and according to God’s will.”

While Wilberforce’s relationship with money changed greatly post-conversion, the way he managed his time changed even more dramatically. After the Lord grabbed ahold of his life, Wilberforce grieved over how he previously spent his life. “I condemned myself for having wasted my precious time, and opportunities, and talents,” he said. And so he wrote this resolution in his personal journal: “To endeavour from this moment to amend my plan for time. I hope to live more than heretofore to God’s glory and my fellow-creatures’ good.”

Wilberforce’s response to the gospel was remarkably practical. He understood that God had saved him to do good works in the world and redeem what was broken in creation. And that led him to deeply internalize Paul’s command to manage his time wisely: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15–16).

Wilberforce started making sure he got adequate sleep, his journal filled with disciplined notes to himself such as, “Go to bed at eleven and wake at six.” He started walking around London with an inkwell and quill in his pocket in order to capture productive thoughts as they entered his head. And perhaps most significantly, Wilberforce began spending long chunks of time in Scripture, reading it daily and using long walks to meditate, pray, and recite passages to himself.

Being intentional about how we manage our time may seem “unspiritual,” but if we believe that we were created to work for the glory of God and the good of others, it is one of the most spiritual things we can do. As Paul wrote, “the days are evil.” Let us, like Wilberforce, be intentional about stewarding them well.

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